After some very freaky opening credits that resemble someone mixing Game of Thrones, Black Sails, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a lot of neon while doing shrooms, we cut to a handsomely dressed black man sitting at a desk in a room that resembles the stereotypical office of a Hollywood college professor. He’s even got the three piece suit, professorial glasses and the bonging of an old fashioned tower clock outside to really drive the image home. From the hand drawn maps, old school typewriter etc, he’s likely a history professor. Our Professor, opens a large book and begins writing using an antique pen actually dipped in an ink well, his even paced voice reciting his tale in voiceover.
The story told is one of a ship of viking warrior sailors discovering a barren, hostile land. Cold, tired, hungry and attacked by an unseen enemy, they quickly desire to leave and go back home. But sails require wind and they had the bad luck of having none. so they followed as they had been taught and prayed to their gods, especially the All Father, to convince Wind to blow for them so they could return home.
As their prayers went unanswered, they endeavored to make the All Father notice them. They burned an eye out, in reflection of the All Father being the one eyed god. They burned sacrifices on great pyres. Finally they launched a great bloody melee, hoping the blood of war would call out to the All Father. And it did. Those still alive quickly departed, never speaking of the land they found. A land that would be rediscovered 100 years later by Erik the Red, a discovery that would go down in history.
Day. A prison. Formidable. Grey. Stone. Classic. Men are in the yard, relaxing in the yard, talking, some are working out. Including Shadow Moon. Shadow looks like the stereotypical strong but basically dumb guy, the kind you wouldn’t be shocked to find in prison, if you were one to think such things. Loitering nearby and running his mouth is prison philosopher and Shadow’s cell mate, Low Key. Shadow comments that he feels like there’s an axe hanging over him, and the smell of snow (despite it looking like it might be a summer day).
Shadow calls his wife Laura, repeating that he feels like something weird is happening. Something he can’t explain but “the air feels constipated, like if it could push out a storm everything would be okay.” Laura deflects by commenting on the nice weather at home and admitting to Shadow that she and his best friend Robbie are working on a surprise party for his return at the end of the week.
A storm does hit that night, full of sound and fury, thunder and lightening. And a bizarre dream of walking through woods with the ground covered in skulls, a sky full of celestial lights and trees with bony arms for branches.
Shadow awakens to a guard summoning him. He’s taken to the Warden’s office where he receives the news that his wife has died and he’s being let out early so he can go home for her funeral. The whole moment is utterly disconcerting and unreal. Shadow arrives at the airport to be told that changing his ticket will incur a sizable cost, one he can’t really afford. The situation reminds him of a story that Low Key told him about a prisoner who went off on an airport employee when he was released from prison, only to end up back in prison. The story, while rather ridiculous, does encourage Shadow to keep his cool and he manages to get a ticket for the next day.
Waiting at the gate to board that flight, Shadow spies a gentleman having a confusing argument with the same gate attendant who refused to help him the day before. The gentleman comes off as frail, scattered, possibly suffering dementia and the attendant gives in and gives him the first class seat he claims he bought to get rid of him.
A ticket screw up results in Shadow getting a seat in First Class and the flighty demented man is sitting next to him. Only now he’s not so flighty, in fact he’s the exact opposite. Sharp, shifty, smooth. He even convinces the flight attendant to not only let him keep his drink but to bring a fresh one for himself and one for Shadow. The shifty gent also seems to know with great confidence that Shadow just got out of prison. It’s as if he was stalking Shadow.
Shifty gent asks Shadow what his name is and upon hearing “Shadow Moon” makes jokes about Shadow having hippie parents, a mother with a big afro etc. Shadow nods, confirming that the details are not incorrect before asking the gent what he’s called. But instead of giving an answer, Shifty asks what day it is and replies “today is my day.” Wednesday, as he’s now called, launches into an odd diatribe about faith and belief while a storm suddenly brews up outside. Shadow repeatedly brushes off repeated offers of a job from Wednesday, who finally gives up and curls up for a nap. Shadow too falls asleep and has another bizarre dream. This one of full of thunder, lightning, a giant tree and a buffalo/bison with flaming eyes who tells him to ‘believe’. Yeah that’s not weird at all.
Shadow wakes up to find the plane empty, having made an emergency landing because of the storm, which as conveniently stopped. Unable to get another flight until the next day, Shadow rents a car and heads out to drive the rest of the way home. Part way through his drive, Shadow pulls over and wanders out to a vast canyon where he proceeds to have a nice long barbaric yawp that would make Whitman proud.
The moment also provides a nice point to segue to a seemingly disconnected moment in Hollywood. Cut to a jazz bar where a middle aged man approaches an somewhat plain looking black woman. He’s immediately entranced and the woman, Bilquis, takes the man up to her room. A very very red room. Blood red, womb red even. They proceed to undress and have sex. Sex which takes a very bizarre and creepy turn when Bilquis asks the unnamed man to worship her, to pray to her. And he does. His words take on a chanting tone as they grind, thrust, etc. That is until she literally sucks him, full body and seemingly alive, into her in what can only be described as a reverse birth (yeah you read that right). Having consumed the man and his sexual energy, Bilquis no longer has the appearance of a plain woman. Her wrinkles, blotchy skin, limp hair are all gone. She’s young, plump in all the right places, smooth skin etc. And she glows.
Back out on the road, Shadow finds himself at Jack’s Crocodile Bar. It’s a kitsch, campy sort of place with a bar shaped like a giant crocodile mouth. Shadow orders food and goes into the bathroom to take a piss. During which he discovers that Wednesday has somehow found him. Shadow once again refuses Wednesday’s job offer, not waiting to even hear the offer. That is until Wednesday tells Shadow that Robbie, best friend and future employer, is also dead. Broke with no prospects, Shadow makes a crazy offer to agree to work for Wednesday based on the luck of a coin toss. A coin toss Shadow is certain he’ll win because he’s got a thing for coin tricks and can rig the toss.
Only Shadow doesn’t win. And now he’s stuck living by his word. While he’s waiting for Wednesday to return with a drink, Shadow meets Mad Sweeney, a six foot tall, skinny leprechaun. Sweeney hints that there’s something to be told, something mysterious about Wednesday. But before Shadow can comment, Wednesday returns with drinks. For Shadow, it’s several shots of mead, drink of the gods. Sweeney calls out Wednesday as a hustler, which the older man doesn’t deny. A hustler, a cheat, a liar. All of which are why he needs someone like Shadow. Someone to protect him, fight for him, perhaps one day to hold his vigil. Shadow agrees but only in cases where someone is actually trying to hurt Wednesday. He won’t fight for fun or profit. A term that Wednesday agrees to. Shadow drinks the last of the mead, they shake hands and the deal is made.
Once that business is done, Sweeney shows Shadow, his own coin trick. He literally pulls gold coins out of thin air. Repeatedly. Shadow wants to see the trick and Sweeney offers to show him, if Shadow will fight him. Shadow refuses, until Sweeney hits a sore spot and brings up Laura.
Sweeney and Shadow have a knock down, drag out fight. It’s raw, bloody, drunken. Despite getting his face bashed to a bloody mess, Sweeney actually seems to be getting off on the whole thing. Shadow wakes up the next morning in the backseat of a Cadillac, Wednesday driving. Shadow has no real memory of the night before, including the secret to Sweeney’s coin trick. The gold coin in Shadow’s pocket is the only thing that makes the whole incident real.
Shadow makes it to his wife’s funeral only to have it take a turn for the WTF. Robbie’s wife, Audrey, drops the bomb that Laura and Robbie weren’t just in the car together, they were having an affair and Laura was giving Robbie a blow job when the accident happened. Shadow stays at the grave site while the site is cleaned up, covered etc. Night falls and Shadow has a one sided fight with Laura. Resigned, Shadow tosses the gold coin onto the grave site as a final gift. Audrey turns up, post Robbie’s funeral, very drunk and basically stoned. She basically throws herself on Shadow, desiring revenge sex but Shadow refuses. But while he’s comforting Audrey, he doesn’t notice the coin getting sucked into the ground.
Shadow is walking down a very creepy, lonely looking road (what happened to the Cadillac, he drove it to the Church). Without warning, all the street lights go out. (that can’t be good). Shadow is drawn to a sound like inserts and discovers a bizarre glowing metal thing in the grass by the side of the road (uh even The Scav King would say going to check that out is a bad idea). The thing opens up like some kind of weird Transformer robot before going Facehugger on Shadow. Images flash before Shadow’s eyes like a freaky VR sort of deal, seeming to construct a car like vehicle around him. On the other end of the vehicle, materializes a 20 something year old looking figure. With his goofy hairdo, flashy clothes and smug expression, he’s the very figure of the world’s more obnoxious hipster.
Although not called out by name, this is Technical Boy. He created this little world and the faceless, robot like “Children” who obey his very order. This is a detail TB uses to make tough sounding threats to maybe kill Shadow, or maybe just break all his bones. In true and obnoxious hipster style, TB proceeds to vape a nasty concoction of synthetic toad skins that smells like burning wires and might just be trying to get Shadow stoned so he’ll give up answers. TB wants to know what Wednesday is up to, what his plan is. Questions for which Shadow has no answers. Realizing that he won’t get any answers, TB orders his children to kill Shadow, to delete his very existence. Technical Boy hits a button that opens a sky light and Shadow and the Children get sucked outside and back to what seems to be reality. The Children proceed to kick the crap out of Shadow before hoisting him up by a noose. As Shadow hangs there, seemingly about to choke to death, the sky begins to rain blood. The rope breaks and Shadow falls to the ground. As he does, the Children explode and their bodies spew blood everywhere. Shadow looks up to find himself next to a giant sea like mass of blood.
And cut to black.